NRC Runners of the Month – Tara Underwood and Yong Kim

Tara Underwood

Tara Family1Unassuming.  Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as not pretentious or arrogant; modest, and the picture next to it should be NRCer, Tara Underwood.  At first glance, her light blond hair and effortless smile might resemble more of a Disney princess than an ultra marathoner, but go out on a run with her and you’ll see why muddy trails cower in her presence.

Born in Gallatin, TN, Tara was five years old when her family moved to Decatur, AL where she spent her formidable years.  She claims she had no athletic ability as a child, so she obviously saved it all for adulthood.  After college, she traveled north to live in the Cincinnati area staying there for 8 years until finally circling back near her birthplace, to settle in Brentwood.

In 2010, Nissan was raffling free entries to employees for the Middle Half.  A co-worker challenged her to put her name in, but she was not selected.  Inspired by the challenge, she thought, ‘Why not just register!’  Like a lone wolf, she trained alone and completed that race and several half marathons before an injury flared in 2012.  By then, she was burned out and needed a break.

She’d heard of NRC several months before the 1st Couch to 5K, but was nervous about showing up.  After talking to a friend about the C25K flyers one day, she decided to sign up as motivation to start running again.  I’d say she found her motivation and then some.

Tara marathon finishSince then she has made many running accomplishments.  The Carmel Full Marathon 2014 and Stump Jump Trail 50K 2015 stand out among the rest, not because they were both firsts; it was the training leading up to them that made them the most memorable.  “Having Kelli Alexander, Rachel Eller and Elizabeth Pfeiffer by my side, encouraging me and challenging my self-perceived limits was amazing,” said Tara.  “They made the many hours and early mornings worth it!”

For anyone considering an ultra or ultra trail, Tara is a great source of inspiration.  She signed up for Fleet Feet’s 13-week ultra trail training program earning the designation of “Ultra Dirtbag” as she upped (and downed) her running game on the paths at Percy Warner Park.  She definitely felt the training plan made it easy (albeit minus the actual running); you just follow the schedule.

Still with any goal that lofty, there will be challenges to overcome.  For Tara, a big lesson she learned was how to not get overwhelmed by the end goal.  When the enormity of it all was too much she told herself to just take it one training session at a time and trust Fleet Feet when they said ‘If she followed the plan, she’d be ready’.Tara IMG_1522

Was there ever a moment when she thought she might not be able to do it?  More than once during training, she admitted.  But, her husband Daniel, also a NRCer, would remind her that she’s too stubborn to give up on anything she’s set her mind on doing.

That stubbornness was put to the test when hard rains turned the Stump Jump course into a muddy mess.  Tiring and treacherous in some places, even experienced ultra athletes were calling it the toughest trail course they’d ever run.

During the race, Tara felt strong and never doubted she would finish until she was about 5 minutes from the 21-mile cut off.  Tara and NRCer Rachel Eller ended up crossing the checkpoint just 3 minutes too late, but since they ran in, the race personnel let them go on!  With that they were rejuvenated and pushed through the remaining mucky miles to the finish line!

Need more proof that Tara got a hold of the “good Kool-Aid”?  When asked about Ragnar 2014, she can actually be quoted as saying, “What an experience being trapped in a van with some of my favorite people for 36 hours!”  If you were there running down the back roads of Tennessee all hours of the night, you might have caught a glimpse of the ever-elusive Hellcats. What is a hellcat, you ask?  According to Tara – NRCer Ken Moore in all his glory!

Tara and her husband, Daniel, havTara IMG_1521e two bright and beautiful daughters, Haley (age 12) and Caroline (age 10).  Going the distance in marriage and in miles, the two ran the 2015 Carmel Marathon together, his first!  They also have a tradition of running the Turkey Trot 5k in Huntsville, AL and this year will be their sixth.

Tara gives back to NRC in more ways than one.  Since the 1st C25K program prompted her comeback to running, Tara makes a point to mentor the 3-1 group every year and loves seeing the participants’ confidence build week to week.  She was key in NRC’s involvement with the WALK TN challenge, which won Nolensville the title of “Most Active Town in Tennessee” and recently accepted the Secretary position on the NRC board.

As a family, the Underwoods have participated in the annual NRC Turkey Challenge, Miles for Amelia fundraiser and NRC Angel Tree that benefits area elementary students.  “I am honored to be part of a club that is so much more than its name implies,” says Tara.  “I am proud that the community recognizes that as well.”

Favorite board game:
Apples to Apples
Top race on your bucket list­: Chicago Marathon
Favorite food after a big race: Chocolate milk

Yong Kim

Yong 2015-09-28 22.26.39 Our male NRCer of the Month lives life to the extreme!  Whether it’s stretching his limits on the IRONMAN course or wolfing down a plate of Nolen’s Place mega-nachos for a local cause, Yong Kim is so much more than a “fastie”.  Equal parts athlete and academic (with a little bit of jokester thrown in for good measure), Yong works hard and plays hard.  You can find him running ultra lengths at lightning speeds over trail and road, and helping others as one of the most supportive and encouraging coaches in our crew.  For all of these reasons and more, we’re excited to share his story!

Yong was born in Taegu, South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. when he was two years old.  He was involved in competitive sports from a young age, but running was never a focus.  It was boring compared to the strategies and skills of his other sports.

Then in high school, his soccer coach required the team to run cross-country as their off-season training regimen.  Not surprisingly, he had some success and it sparked his interest for running.  Now, Yong is not only a runner, he switches up his time between trails, ultras, cycling and swimming.  He has completed many triathlons and proved his mettle (pun intended) gaining the title of IRONMAN in Chattanooga in September 2015.

Yong DSC07920His wife, Joo, and daughter, Hailey, also run.  Joo completed her first 50k at the 2015 Stump Jump (mud and all) and their family formed a 3-man team for the Hoggin ‘n’ Joggin relay benefitting the Nolensville Food Pantry.  Yong’s adventurous nature must run in the family, because they were one of the few H ‘n’ J teams willing to participate in the nacho speed-eating contest to knock out hunger, and they won!

I asked him his secret to finding time to be with family, train, and work plus still find time for fun.  He shrugged, “No secret, it’s the only way to do it… with fun.  It’s been a blessing to have Joo and Hailey more involved with my running,” said Yong.  “Hopefully it encourages the fitness in all of us and it makes the journeys we share more memorable.”

When life allowed little time for running, finding NRC made a big impact on Yong.  There was not much time for running in his late 20’s and early 30’s.  He was so busy with family, home, and work that he was making very little time for himself.  The few races he did were on a dare and he simply survived, no glory.

It was after they settled in Nolensville that he saw a few guys out running (he thinks it was NRC original, John Pryor, and Steven “Speedy” Fleming).  It got him thinking about his health and fitness and the need to make them a priority again.  Before long, he discovered NRC.

Since his return to running he has attained some awe-inspiring goals.  One that stands out from the rest is his 2010 Music City Triathlon that brought 100° temperature and many firsts.  It was his first near death swimming experience, his first experience getting passed by a, shall we say well-aged, cyclist wearing tri briefs (it was 100 degrees!), and his inaugural upchuck on lower broad without the intrusion of alcohol!  I’d say that was pretty memorable race!Yong IMG_2033

2015 was the year of the IRONMAN for Yong.  He had planned to train for 9 months, but circumstances allowed him to manage only 6 with 4 truly effective.  From that experience, Yong learned the importance of discipline. “When it comes to the IRONMAN distance nothing comes easy,” he explained.  “I’ve managed to compete in most events just off my fitness; however there’s no faking a full IRONMAN.  The need for training, nutrition, and executing the plan are all amplified.”

Facing a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, a 116 mile bike course with two loops through the scenic farmland and mountain views of North Georgia and a 26.2-mile run around beautiful, but hilly Chattanooga, I wondered if Yong ever had doubts he could finish within the time to earn the IRONMAN title.

He answered honestly, “I think it’s human to have doubt when one is willing to tackle a monumental challenge for the first time.  Mistakes are inevitable and breakdowns are expected.  Though we may harp on errors or bad luck, the competitor is determined by what he/she does next.  I take those overwhelming tasks and simplify, do tasks within my means, and keep moving forward.”

A natural encourager, Yong is always sharing his knowledge and supporting other NRCers to achieve their goals.  He noted there are primarily three things that cause injury: trauma, overuse or deficient areas; so he created the Nolensville INNaE Project, a boot camp style, weekly workout, designed to impact the latter two of those factors.  Yong got the name from a Korean term that refers to a person’s inner strength, inner tolerance, endurance and fight, which fits this hard-core group perfectly!

Yong IMG_2219Having run with NRC since its early days, Yong feels amazed to have witnessed the growth of the local running community.  He remembers the small group runs and one-table, post-run gatherings of a few years ago, but is not surprised that there are so many NRCers now, it’s hard to keep up with all the names.

“It’s a blessing to be immersed in such an inspiring club,” said Yong,  “The people, the stories, the achievements, the failures, the massive support, and all the joy and laughter… it only keeps me coming back.”

Yong enjoys running, because it’s simple.  He has a deep appreciation for what he sees as the most natural, “no equipment necessary” sport and how it is competition in its simplest, yet finest form.  Likewise, he is “simply” inspirational!  Whether we are learning from him, chasing his award-winning legs (NRC Best Legs 2015), or saying “Cheers” to him after a run, Yong makes NRC better and for that we are extremely thankful!

Favorite board game:  Monopoly, dibs on the Top Hat
Top race on your bucket list:  Pike’s Peak, one of the original marathons in the US and it hits 14000 ft., literally breathtaking
Favorite thing to eat after a big race: Vietnamese soup